Whenever I talk about trips we’ve been on with our children, some people make a warding off gesture with their hands, like the thought of travel with children is just too much to bear. But travel with children doesn’t have to be a nightmare. In fact, with a good sense of humor, the spirit of adventure, and a strong dose of flexibility, travel with children can be a big adventure for all. My sister, her husband, and their 14-month old are headed on a travel adventure soon. This is their first experience traveling with a small child, and a good chance for me to take my own trip down memory lane as I think about tips for travel with children to pass along to her, and others who might be braving big or small trips with pint-sized travel companions.
Plan for the bad, so you can really enjoy the good. I find that this is the #1 best tip when it comes to travel with children. It’s best to expect the rock-bottom worst because then you’ll be so happy with anything better than that. If you go into a trip thinking that little J will fall asleep just fine at 8:00 pm in the hotel room because he’s as regular as a clock about it and then little J spends the time arching his back and wailing from 8:00-10:00 instead, you’ll be devastated. Tell yourself instead that he might not sleep until well past his normal bedtime and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when he does crash out at 10:00.
Be realistic when you travel with children. Remember, just because you’re exhausted from your trip, doesn’t mean your kid(s) will be, too. The first night we arrived in Athens, Greece, my husband and I were worn out. We crashed at 10:00, hoping our son would be just as tired. Instead, he was wide awake from 10:00 until nearly 3:00 a.m.! Decide ahead of time who will take which “shift” to minimize bad feelings when one of you pulls the all-nighter while the other sleeps. Cranky parents = cranky kids.
Bring a change of clothes for yourself, not just your kid. We’ve braved two trans-Atlantic trips with little ones and I learned this lesson the hard way. If you don’t purchase a separate seat for your under-two child they will be in your lap the entire time, and this makes for a messy mom or dad by the time the wheels touch down. Don’t forget that travel can upset tummies, too, and plan accordingly for everyone.
Pack that travel entertainment bag carefully! Whether you’re traveling by car, boat, train, or airplane, make sure you pack some old favorite activities when you travel with children, as well as a couple of new surprises. On our first trans-Atlantic trip my we introduced our son to Play-doh, and he spent some happy moments perched on our laps digging through the play-doh to find the plastic toys we “buried” inside.
Bring favorite bedding with you. Nothing says ‘home’ and ‘sleep’ to a little one quite like their favorite pillow or blankie. My son is twelve now, and still likes to take his favorite sleeping bag/comforter with him on trips. If your child has a good bedtime routine in place, bringing a little piece of home with you on a trip could make the difference in a strange hotel room, or on a airplane.
Pack some food favorites, if you can. Travel throws off appetites and many kids have trouble adjusting to regular mealtime, especially when dealing with jetlag. Pack favorite healthy snacks and light meals so you can to entice your tiny traveler into eating. Forget spending money on pre-packaged “Lunchables” for car and train trips but make your own exciting snack packs and light meals. If you know your child won’t eat the airplane food, pack lots of alternatives. A hungry child on a long flight can be the kind of adventure you don’t want. Trust me, I’ve been there.
The most important of all tips for travel with children? Make the most of every moment, and keep that sense of adventure going strong. This can be hard at times when you travel with children, but I have found that kids can often make surprisingly good travelers; better, in some cases, than the grown-ups who go with them.